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Rumsfeld Interview with Jim Lehrer, News Hour, PBS TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 22, 2002 6:00 PM EDT

(Rumsfeld Interview with Jim Lehrer, News Hour, PBS TV)

LEHRER: And now to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Jim.

LEHRER: First, just for the record, there was a rumor that swept Wall Street late this afternoon, caused the stock market to rise 100 points, that US forces had captured Osama bin Laden. Is there anything to that?

RUMSFELD: I have heard no such report.

LEHRER: There is nothing new on this at all?

RUMSFELD: I have heard no such report.

LEHRER: Does that...okay, all right, we'll leave it there. You said yesterday, that we Americans should expect terrorists to use weapons of mass destruction against our targets. What caused you to say that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I was in a hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Inouye, the Chairman, asked me the question as to whether or not I thought the terrorists conceivably could use those types of weapons and what my assessment was. And I said basically what I have said for many, many, many months, and it is the following: that there are six or eight countries that are on the terrorist list. It's widely known who they are: countries like Iraq and Iran and Syria and Libya, North Korea.

And many of them have chemical and biological weapons programs where they have actually weaponized these weapons, and second, most of them or some of them have very aggressive programs to develop nuclear weapons; certainly Iran does, certainly Iraq does, and there are others including North Korea.

Now, these countries have very close relationships with global terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others. It seems to me we know how those terrorist networks function. They're perfectly willing to kill thousands of innocent men, women and children by flying airplanes into buildings. We know that they wouldn't hesitate a second to use weapons of mass destruction, if they had them, and we also have enough evidence to know that the global terrorists have in fact, been trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

So it seems to me that it's perfectly reasonable to recognize that fact -- that's the world we live in. The proliferation of these technologies is so widespread that we have to expect that that will be the case.

LEHRER: But this was not based on any new information?

RUMSFELD: It wasn't. It was basically what I have been saying for many, many months, since the September 11 attack and before.

LEHRER: You also said that there...well, it's been interpreted at least, that you said there is not a lot that we can do about it, that if they use these weapons, they will use them in some kind of unexpected way that we cannot plan for. Is that a correct interpretation of what you were saying?

RUMSFELD: No. There is a great deal that we can do about it, and we are doing a great deal about it. We have been working aggressively to reduce proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them. That's one thing we can do.

A second thing we can do is to recognize that it's very difficult to defend against a terrorist act. A terrorist has all the advantage; on the offense they can come at you at any time of the day or night using any technique of terrorism and using any conceivable type of weapon. Now, if that's the case, we know of certain knowledge it's not possible to defend at every time in every place against every conceivable technique.

Therefore, what we must do is to take the battle to them. That's why President Bush's position about going after global terrorists all over the world, wherever they are, and going after countries that are serving as sanctuaries and havens for terrorists is the only way to deal with that problem. Sure, you have to be sensitive and have a heightened sense of awareness. Certainly you have to strengthen your intelligence gathering and do everything you can to protect against a terrorist act. And we've taken enormous numbers of steps in the United States to improve security here at home. But the most effective way is to take the battle to the terrorists and find them.

LEHRER: But are you also talking about taking the battle to the countries who have these weapons of mass destruction before they put them in the hands of terrorists?

RUMSFELD: There is no question but that that's exactly what we did. We went into Afghanistan and we, where the government was serving as a haven for the al-Qaeda, and we have thrown the Taliban government out and we've got the al-Qaeda on the run. They're still there. We still have to stay there and work the problem. But the President made that decision and it's been successful and we have to stay at it now and see that it does not revert back to a terrorist haven.

LEHRER: But what about these countries that you say have either...either have weapons of mass destruction or are developing weapons of mass destruction, should we take overt actions against them in place before they get these weapons to terrorists? That's what I'm asking.

RUMSFELD: Well those are decisions of course for the country and the president and the Congress to make. It's not for me. But clearly we are doing a host of things around the world to put pressure on terrorists. We're trying to dry up their bank accounts; we're trying to make their recruiting more difficult. We're making it more difficult for them to move between countries. We're using all elements of national power. And it seems to me that we've got a full court press on terrorists around the world. That doesn't mean you can stop every terrorist attack to be sure.

One other thing that we can do is to recognize that these 'asymmetrical attacks', as they call them, are the types of things that we're going to have to deal with in the United States, which makes it so important for to us transform our military and see that we're arranged for the kinds of threats and the kinds of capabilities that can be used against us in the coming decade or two.

LEHRER: Your comments yesterday before the Senate hearing, you just explained how they, how they came about, have been put in a pattern here, because also yesterday there was a report of a, a particular terrorist alert in New York City, the day before that the head of the FBI said we should expect suicide bombings; they should be expected; they were inevitable. The day before that the vice president said, it's all but certain that the United States will be attacked by another...have another terrorist attack in the same league with September 11. What's going on? Are all these things a part of a pattern?

RUMSFELD: Well, the vice president was on "Meet the Press" and asked a question by Tim Russert, and he answered it. I was before a Senate Committee and was asked a question by Senator Inouye, and I answered it. There is no pattern. It's just the truth. The truth is that there were hundred of terrorists trained very well in al-Qaeda training camps, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They are around the world in forty or fifty countries. They have money. They are skillful at what they do, as we saw on September 11.

We know they have been actively seeking out weapons of mass destruction, and we know that they have close relationships with terrorist countries that have those weapons. So if I'm asked that question, I didn't answer that question any differently for Senator Inouye in the hearing yesterday than I have answered it every week or two for the past six months.

LEHRER: As you know, it's been suggested by some members of Congress and commentators in the last couple of days that the Bush Administration is seeking to change the subject from the questions that have been asked about some lack of closing some dots pre-September 11. Is there anything to that?

RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge. I certainly... I have no reason to want to do that or to, to try change the subject at all. This is a subject I've been on month after month. You've asked me this question...


RUMSFELD: ...on this program. I have answered it to you exactly the same way did I this evening.

LEHRER: What do you make of these questions that have been raised about pre-September 11? Are they appropriate? Are they within the bounds of a legitimate discourse in a democratic society?

RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. I think people can raise questions about anything they want. We have free speech. I think people when they do that have to be willing to take the benefit and the burden both of asking questions, and to the extent people ask questions that are constructive, I think the American people will respond and say that that's a thoughtful, useful thing to be doing.

To the extent people raise questions in a way that is destructive or harmful or unhelpful, then I think those people tend to not be well thought of by the American people. And in the last analysis the American people make their own judgment. They've got a good center of gravity.

LEHRER: What about your own view? Have you heard any questions being asked destructive that are hurting what you're trying to do as Secretary of Defense in this area?

RUMSFELD: I'll tell you, I have not felt...of course I'm not really a part of discussion to any great extent, and I really don't have much time to read all the papers and see all of the questions that are asked. So I don't know whether I'm a good judge. I do think that we have got a lot of work to do. The intelligence gathering information task is an enormous one. I see all these intelligence reports, and for the most part very few of them are actionable; very few of them are specific.

The overwhelming majority of them prove not to have been valid. And trying to piece things together in a way that we can improve how we do things is a task that the entire government in the Central Intelligence Agency for foreign intelligence and certainly the law enforcement agencies in this country work very hard at.

We are unique as a country, almost, I mean, I don't know how many countries there are that do not have a domestic intelligence gathering organization. We simply don't have one. We have a foreign intelligence gathering organization.

But for a whole host of reasons historically the United States has never had a federal agency that had as its task gathering intelligence to prevent attacks here, probably because we have two big oceans and we have friends on the North and friends on the South, and we have not felt vulnerable to foreign attack inside of our own country. Other countries have, from their beginnings, had those kinds of agencies that do that task. So we really have a disadvantage in terms of pulling information together.

LEHRER: Is it time to fix that?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. It's not for me; it's not something that the Department of Defense would be involved in. It's really for the president and others, the Congress, and other departments to consider. But it does make it different in terms of our interaction with other countries. The Central Intelligence Agency, as you well know, is not allowed to gather intelligence in the United States.

LEHRER: What you would say to those who say that we have got to be careful here that we don't create a kind of no-fault government - that's what George Will has written about in the past, as you know - that when things go wrong, that instead of saying, hey, the guys in charge, nobody steps forward and says, hey, look it's my responsibility, I'll take the heat, everybody runs for cover. And why wouldn't the leaders of the government -- if anything went wrong prior to September 11 why wouldn't they want to know more than anybody else?

RUMSFELD: Well, they would, we would, my goodness. I'm continuously reviewing things. And, or example, take the conflict in Afghanistan. One of the first things we did after we began was to put in place a "lessons learned" activity so that we could almost simultaneously as we were going through the process find things that we were doing that might have been done differently or might have been done better and begin to feed that, that knowledge into the process so that General Franks was involved and others of us were involved in establishing that -- and it's been a good thing. So we're constantly trying to improve what we do.

LEHRER: New subject: the Crusader. I won't read all of the quotes I have here from the senators who have been jumping all over you since you decided to cancel the Crusader tank project. Are you having any second thoughts at all, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Oh, not a bit. My goodness gracious, if you can't do this one, then we're not going to be able to transform the armed forces of the United States; and we simply must do that. This is a good weapon system, it's capable, it's better than the one we currently have. It will not be as good as the one that follows on from it in the future combat system.

The... if we funded every single thing that all of the services wanted, the defense budget would double and triple within a period of a decade or two, and there is just no way to do that. Choices have to be made. The American people know that. The American people get up every day and in managing their own affairs know that they have to pick and choose what they're going to do, what they're going to spend their money on and make judgments about it and sometimes it's very hard choices they have to make. And that's what we're doing.

It doesn't bother me a bit that the services want more than they're going to get. That's the way life is; everybody would. If I were a head of one of the services, I would be pushing for various things as well. The task is not to simply agree to everything one of the three services wants but to recognize that a combatant commander out in the field doesn't fight with Army equipment or Navy or Air Force; he fights joint and he has got to have all of those things connect in a way that is rational and coherent. And the decision we have made on the Crusader is exactly the right decision, and I think when the dust settles, we'll find that the Crusader has been canceled.

LEHRER: But you think you're going to win this one, huh?

RUMSFELD: I do think we will. I think we will because it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing for the country. The American people need to be served, and we have got to be respectful of the taxpayers' dollars, and the time to make changes is not when the bow wave is going to run us over; the time to make changes is early. And the Crusader does not exist. It's been taken from 60 tons down to 40 tons, they hope, but they haven't gotten to the point...

LEHRER: That's for each one of these...

RUMSFELD: Each single one. And then if you add the people and the ammunition and the support vehicle, it's 97 tons. To take 18 - a battalion of Crusaders into a battle - it would take 60 to 64 C-17 transports. And that's half of our entire fleet.

LEHRER: Now, Senator Inhofe, when you said that before the committee, he said that was not true; he challenged you, he said that he didn't believe you.

RUMSFELD: I'm right.

LEHRER: Have you talked to him about it since?

RUMSFELD: Sure. He's a good man. He's worked hard on this, and it happens the information I have comes from the transportation command and from the Army people and when you connect them, that is what it takes to move 18 Crusader artillery tubes, the fuel, the ammunition, the people, and the support vehicle that you need to supply the ammunition into a battle.

LEHRER: Back to what you said at the very beginning on this, if you don't win this you don't think your attempts to reform and change the military are going to go anywhere?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it's awful tough. I mean, the president is determined on this; I am determined on this. It is the right thing to do. I think we have to be persuasive, we have to make our case, and the, the argument that you need the Crusader, because it can do A, B, or C is a poor one.

It's a weak argument, because a combatant commander, what he wants to do is he wants to put firepower on a target, and he does not care where that comes from. He does not care if it comes from an artillery tube, or a mortar, or a rocket, or an attack aircraft, or a bomber, or a Cruise missile. All he wants to do is get it.

And we have an overwhelming power, capabilities, a variety, a spectrum of capabilities to put firepower on a target. And the idea that a single artillery tube is going to make the difference in this case is simply not factual.

LEHRER: All right. Mr. Secretary, good to see you again. Thank you very much.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.


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